Equestrian groups have criticised the government for publishing details of a proposed new animal health body before the idea has been properly reviewed.

They have also slammed Westminster for not revealing how much the controversial “horse tax” levy — to pay for the body — will be in the draft animal welfare bill, released on 25 January.

A hard sell to horse owners

Prof Tim Morris, chairman of the British Horse Industry Confederation, said: “We have been assured the subject is still open for debate, but publishing a draft bill without saying what it will cost and with no visible benefits makes this a very hard sell to horse owners.”

The draft bill sets out plans to set up the Animal Health Organisation to take over responsibility for animal health in England from Defra.

BHIC member groups feel the idea of making a charge of at least £10.50 per year on every horse in the UK — to pay for the new body — is excessive, with no clear benefits for them.

Insufficient co-ordination

Madeleine Campbell, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), said: “We are very concerned about the government’s determination to split health from welfare.

“BEVA and the British Veterinary Association [BVA] believe this will have an adverse effect on welfare and disease containment. There will not be sufficient co-ordination between the two bodies and that will slow everything down in the case of an exotic disease outbreak.”

A spokesman for Defra said: “Those who benefit from investment in controlling and preventing animal diseases should share the costs with taxpayers.

“It costs around £4,000 to keep a horse for a year, and the mooted charge of around £10.50 is a relatively small price for horse owners to pay in securing the services that support their animals.”

The earliest the bill will come into effect is April 2012.

Have your say on the draft bill at www.defra.gov.uk by 19 April

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (4 February, ’10)